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Davidson and Goldberg state that changes in communications technology in recent decades demand concommitant changes in how schools, especially colleges and universities, educate our young. I agree. But our authors take that premise and run with it in some directions which I don't believe are supported by the evidence.

Our authors insist that conventional education, with its hierarchical social groupings and insistence on individual work, will prove completely unsustainable in coming years. I wonder if they have read their history seriously enough. Their warnings repeat, nearly verbatim, statements made when moveable type, film, and television challenged former paradigms of learning. A time traveler from 1975 might be astounded to see that videotape hasn't rendered teachers obsolete.

They go on to extol "virtual" educational models which take place without "the contiguity of time and place." Which sounds good, but my own experiments with structural flexibility teach me that, if I don't require my students to be in a room at a certain time, more than half of them will never do the reading or write their assignments more than a day in advance. I doubt even Goldberg and Davidson believe that classes without classrooms will ever be more than icing on the cake for advanced students. They concede early on that "most virtual institutions are, in fact, supported by a host of real institutions and real individuals."

Though some students love learning enough to be self-motivated, they are not the majority. Many, if not most, regard classes, even within their majors, as a nuisance. I would love it if my students had enough ambition to undertake the kind of team tasks Davidson and Goldberg describe, but anybody who has taught more than one or two semesters knows that if you get three students per class who don't need to be prodded, you are one lucky cuss.

I found one comment our authors quoted to be all too telling. A respondent to an early draft of this paper insisted that "open-ended assignments provide the opportunity for creative, research-based learning." This is true, for those willing to embrace such opportunity. But this respondent sought out and answered back to a scholarly paper; I might get two students per semester with that level of ambition.

I would absolutely love to assign more open-ended research projects. I would love to let my students take ownership of the learning process. But I have learned the hard way that they usually will not. I had two students drop my class this past semester because, even with five days' warning, they considered a ten-question reading quiz on a twenty-page chapter too onerous.

Likewise, these authors repeat the claim, which I keep seeing lately, that Pokemon teaches youth important matematical and reasoning skills. I don't doubt this. But my colleagues in the Math Department tell me that only a handful make the leap that allows them to apply Pokemon-based math skills to diverse real world applications. Most still rely on the institutional classroom to make that connection for them. Regular students still need the skills and structure only a conventional four-wall classroom can provide.

Consider Wikipedia, which the authors extol, claiming that professors disparage the site without merit. Yes, its many user/editors keep it up-to-date and Open-Source. Yes, the collaborative model ferrets out innacuracies. But even laying aside the limits of a tertiary source, its programming model leaves it vulnerable to pranks and hacks by idiots. Even that wouldn't be so bad if students utilized their discretion to screen out obvious bunk, but they don't. Too many students receive content uncritically, and I get papers riddled with inaccuracies.

Institutional schooling has survived past changes in the media and cultural landscape because it works. Sure, it will have to adapt to the influence of the new technology, just as it has before. But as long as most youth need mature guidance to take on the skills and responsibilities of adulthood, there will be a place for a classroom with a clear leader judging progress. Davidson and Goldberg claim the old models have become obsolete, but that just doesn't bear up to scrutiny.
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VINE VOICEon June 28, 2010
This kindle "book" is sort of a preview of a much larger work the authors are currently writing. In reality, this should be read like a very long magazine article exploring how the digital age may affect and is affecting higher education in particular and to a lesser extent elementary and secondary education.

The "book" begins and ends, to its disadvantage, with a lot of jargon-filled commentary such as: "We contend that the future of learning institutions demands a deep, epistmogological appreciation of the profundity of what the Internet offers humanity as a model of a learning institution." (loc 50) Yes, yes, yes. This is college writing at its classic wordiness.

Fortunately, once we get into the heart of the paper it gets quite interesting and more reader friendly. There are some big, important questions being asked here, such as, "Why go to college to get information when it can be found in 3 seconds on the internet?" and "Is the purpose of college really to learn skills under the tutelage of acknowledged experts?" (If that is so, why was my smallest class at Indiana University 8 people and the average was around 40?)

The authors seem to be leaning away from the traditional expert model of the university and embracing the collaborative model of the Internet. They use the model of Wikipedia, which is the poster child for what is right and wrong about the internet. Anyone can edit it, which means anyone with knowledge can add to it, but vandals can also damage the site or ignorant people can include their "facts" as well. One of my high school students added his own name to the site for the band Korn as a "spoon player". It stayed up there for months.

But, this model has strengths as well. As a group, we certainly know more than we do individually. The trick is using the experts to weed out the inaccurate information. The authors are especially interested in global participation - they are imagining projects with participants from all over the world, which is easily possible right now with sites plenty of online sites, not just public ones like Wikipedia. What they don't have is an answer as to how to connect the experts with the students all over the world and make sure that the "facts" that are being learned are actually facts.

The meat of this paper is quite interesting and would make for a great classroom discussion. What will education in the future look like? What will college mean in the future - will it mean that an area of knowledge has been mastered or will it mean that the holder of the degree has demonstrated the ability to work towards an abstract goal for an extended period of time? I think the latter has been reality for a while now and the diffusion of information technology will only make it more so.
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on August 21, 2010
"The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age" is a free Kindle redaction of a larger book to come: "The Future of Thinking: Learning in a Digital Age." It proceeded from the MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning, based on a collaborative work on this subject. The thesis of this Kindle book is that "the single most important characteristic of the Internet is its capacity to allow for a worldwide community and its endlessly myriad subsets to exchange ideas, to learn from one another in a way not previously available."

As a teacher and priest, and one interested in how the new technologies are changing us, I found the book fascinating and that it raised many important issues. In short, I find that the book makes the reader aware of how the world is changing, especially the world of education, and makes the reader think about the relationship between technology, especially the Internet, and education. However, it makes promises based on misunderstandings of human nature and behavior without acknowledging the limitations and failings of Internet technology and the ways we use it.

The first chapter is titled "The Classroom or the World Wide Web? Imaging the Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age." It argues that institutions of learning have changed far more slowly than the modes of learning offered by the Internet. Furthermore, rival institutions of learning such as the Internet challenge traditional institutions such as the hierarchy of teacher and student, credentialing, and restriction of admission. While these ideas are provocative, I find that there is a one-sided presentation that only looks at the possible positive outcomes of Internet learning and overstates its case. For example, it's unlikely that the hierarchy of teachers and learners will ever be abolished, even if the nature of these may change. There will always be some who, through experience, position, or wisdom, become the leaders of others. Also, the authors seem to assume that the fact that the Internet democratizes in terms of opportunities people have will necessarily result in equal outcomes. However, as in every other area of human behavior, people will not use the Internet equally, and, thus, there will be an inequality of outcomes. The section on participatory learning was useful. But here, again, the authors do not adequately deal with the issue. They raise the issue of growing dropout rates and the divide between those who are educated and those who are not, but they offer no solution - only a vague promise that participatory, networked learning will make things better. In extolling Wikipedia as a collaborative, participatory, networked work, the authors don't address the fact that Wikipedia is often inaccurate and that people with power, whether corporate (such as government, corporations, or political groups) or individuals (such as hackers) can manipulate information.

The rest of the chapters are titled "Pillars of Institutional Pedagogy: Ten Principles for the Future of Learning," "Challenges from Past Practice" and "Conclusion: Yesterday's Tomorrow."

Throughout the book, it's clear that Marshall McLuhan's proverb, "the medium is the message" becomes important in answering the question of what the implications are for Internet for education. In summary, this work raises a lot of the right questions about technology and education but answers them in a one-sided way.
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on March 18, 2011
There were parts I enjoyed.

I enjoyed the Ichabod Crane reference, it is funny because it is true.

Their comments about Wikipedia and its use/non-use rang true. What they didn't seem to realize was teaching the critical thinking skills that identifies valid information and inaccuracies would then be applied in the classroom to the teaching materials and the content provided by the professor.

I also agreed with their description of the Internet as a "productive if complex and challenging switchboard" rather than "sometimes resembling a maze".

Ultimately, I thought this slender book had a few good points with lots of words in-between for padding, very typical of academic writing. Unfortunately, not a lot of solutions either. Perhaps unfairly, I expected more substance because of the association with MIT.

Currently available free for Kindle.
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on February 1, 2016
I think that this was a pretty good review and did a good job of forecasting the future paradigm against that of the current changes taking place within education. The changes in education currently taking place are astronomical compared to the last 100 years and this is just the beginning.

The paper still holds it's own today even though its about six years old. The ten principles are still going strong and we now have the term or acronym, MOOC which if I remember correctly was coined around the time of its release.

The principles are still taking place while apps are currently being created that promote collaborative learning, universities are losing ground to self-learning, open source is proliferating and vertical authority is being flattened.

Anyone interested in the future of learning should read this paper. The only reason for the four is the age of the paper and the lack of more current information. However it is still relevant.

.
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on July 5, 2014
A rehash of old ideas. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner provided much the same in "Teaching as a Subversive Activity" in 1969. As a "dead white male" college professor of almost 30 years, let me remark on the frequency with which I have listened to supposed innovators lecture about how the lecture is dead. We have heard repeatedly about how grades undermine learning, and most educators agree with this statement. The problem with grades is that they are the currency in which students, transfer institutions, and ultimately employers operate. Sir Ken Robinson is an inspiration (check out his TED talks), but this dry hash makes the complaint, promises a vague future, and offers nothing of usable content and nothing that hasn't been said for decades.
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on March 13, 2012
It was an interesting review of what is going on in learning institutions as they become digital. However, it offered very little insight into how to change and grow the institutions to make better use of digital learning and how to expand it so that everyone can participate. The growth of digital learning is important to our country as it can effectively increase the exposure of new developments to all, but we are not providing it to all who need it. Much of this book (article) looks at what has been done but does not explore how to expand it.
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on February 3, 2013
Good ideas. I would recommend the primary book that this extends: The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning) [Paperback].
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on January 5, 2013
Good solid research and thinking, well presented! Yes! Thank you. As IT Director at a University this type of literature is just what I need to keep me thinking about the University. Keep these coming!
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on May 29, 2014
This gave me some really good ideas of how to further structure a class I'm about to teach. I think it's really going to help me take it to the next level.
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